Men and Women Differ in Reaction to and Treatment for Pain
Women and men react differently to pain, and women's pain complaints are often treated less seriously as a result, USA Today reports. Differences range from the words men and women use to describe pain to the "way they deal with it," with researchers offering both physiological and cultural explanations for the phenomenon. Some studies have found that women "feel pain more intensely," but another explanation is that women simply describe pain "more expansively." Arthur Barsky, director of psychiatric research at Brigham and Women's Hospital, said, "It's hard to separate the vocabulary from the actual sensual experience ... What's a twinge for you may be an agonizing, crushing pain for me." On the physiological side, women have "thinner skin" and a "higher density of nerve fibers" than men, according to Anita Tarzian, a University of Maryland researcher, hospice nurse and co-author of a recent report on treating women's pain in the spring edition of the Journal of Law, Medicine and Ethics. Tarzian notes that fluctuations in estrogen levels, which can cause varying pain severity, and experience with childbirth, may also "influence women's pain response." On the cultural side, women -- taught to "be more nurturing than men" -- tend to seek medical attention more often than their male counterparts, who generally think "crying and other expressions of distress are for sissies," USA Today reports. But because women access medical help more often, their pain complaints are "often less likely to be taken seriously," according to Tarzian. In addition, women are "far more likely" than men to suffer from "painful conditions with no obvious cause," such as fibromyalgia or migraines, which may leave doctors unsure of treatment options and less likely to treat pain aggressively. But Anita Unruh, an occupational therapist and social worker at Dalhousie University, said that such concerns should not "dissuade" women from seeking medical attention "when they feel pain." She said, "You have to trust your own knowledge about who you are and what your body is like" (Rubin, USA Today, 10/9).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.